Poison Ivy is just a part of summer for most people, but it doesn’t have to be. Treating your exposure quickly and naturally can prevent days or even months of irritation and agony. This guide will send you off in a good direction to tackle your poison ivy troubles.
Our skin reacts to the chemical in poison ivy called, urushiol, which is found primarily between cells of the plant. Therefore, if you don’t crush it and smash these cells, your exposure will be lessened. To continue lessening the impact of urushiol, think of it as an oil. If you have dry skin, it will absorb quickly, so be sure to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize before you start your day! (Said every modeling agent ever!)
Still, knowing how to reduce your exposure doesn’t help when you are already exposed. About 4 years ago I did some yard work for a lady in Mount Ida, Arkansas who coated her arms and exposed legs with a little olive oil before going out to work in the poison-ivy infested garden. After work, she washed the oil off and that helped her a lot. It has helped me as well, but there are a few caveats:
Within 10 to 20 minutes, over half of the urushiol, you have come into contact with will be absorbed into your skin. The best treatment is to immediately rinse the area with alcohol. I use 70% or 90% isopropyl and have also had success with Vodka, Whiskey, and other high proof liquors. I’m sure some of the local “shine” would work well too.
If you are carefully cutting out poison ivy from your property, use disposable gloves, make clean cuts and don’t crush the plants, and use alcohol on your pruners when you are done so you don’t infect yourself the next time you want to prune the roses!
After rinsing with alcohol, wash the area thoroughly with soap and cool water. You can use any soap you prefer, but I tend to avoid moisturizing soaps that can carry the oils around. Instead, try Dawn® dish soap, a mild de-greaser, or a good Castile or lye soap (with around a 5% lye deficit). *1 Remember that urushiol is an oily substance! Hot water will spread it around your whole body, so keep the shower as cool as possible and do not soak in the tub!
Use a washcloth to help remove dead skin cells (exfoliate) that have bonded with the urushiol, and throw away the washcloth after your shower to avoid re-contamination.
After the dousing with alcohol, I use dirt, or rather a clay mask blend that I make. You can make something similar by getting a pound of French green clay (Try Marilyn’s Old Country Store/Health Food Store or Amazon). In a pestle and mortar, combine about 1/4 cup of the clay with anti-inflammatory essential oils and absolutes such as chamomile, frankincense, rosemary, etc. For a nice cooling effect, I add a few drops of peppermint and a bit of elemi for healing. You can use just plain french green clay. Use about 1 teaspoon total of essential oils if you choose to add them. Once combined, mix the 1/4 cup of infused clay back into the remaining pound of clay.
To use this treatment, make a slurry of your clay mask powder and spring water (about 2 Tbl. clay to 1 1/2 Tbl. water) and paint it on the affected area with a disposable chip brush (cheap wood and natural bristle paint brushes). Allow to dry and then shower off in COOL water.
Use Your Clay for Wasp & Bee Stings Too
While we are on the subject, I’m taking a paragraph to also suggest making a thick paste out of your green clay (with or without essential oils) and using it to help take the sting out of stings. It is an excellent treatment for bee and wasp stings (after removing the stinger of course).
A Not So Natural Additive
And finally, if you are using your clay only for treating skin issues such as stings and poison ivy, you might try what I do for serious outbreaks, and add the contents of Benadryl® capsules. If you choose to add this, do not exceed over 2% of the Diphenhydramine HCI (by weight) in your dry clay blend, do not use the mask on over 20% of your body, and never use on anyone under 12 years of age. If you are not absolutely certain about your math, skip the Benadryl®. *2
After this procedure, be sure to moisturize again with a good anti-inflammatory lotion. Again, Wind n Wood creates several natural lotions and creams with anti-inflammatory properties, but L’oreal® and Oil of Olay® make some acceptable face creams for about $20 for 1.7 ounces that will do the trick. Look for hyaluronic acid and anti-inflammatory ingredients such as green tea extract, chamomile, calendula, white willow bark, witch hazel, aloe, soy isoflavones, pomegranate, seaweed extract, niacin, Co-enzyme Q10, vitamin E, etc. Some of these natural additives are also anti-oxidants, which is helpful to reduce skin damage.*3
When creating a lotion for damaged skin, I usually add a bit of oregano essential oil as an anti-microbial to help stave off infections on especially bad blisters or cracks. You can add a drop or two of oregano essential oil to any good lotion when you are treating a bad case of poison ivy.
There are some over-the-counter aids that also help such as Tecnu®, Calamine®, Zanfel® and the like. I have had some respectable success with these, and they are nice in a pinch when I’m out of town and away from my “apothecary.”